Ross Chastain’s Martinsville Miracle Shouldn’t Have Shocked Anyone in the NASCAR World Given What He’s Done This Season
Ross Chastain made a historically great move on the final lap Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to reach his first Championship 4 and complete a race that was quite befitting of his remarkable 2022 season.
Chastain opened the Martinsville race as the top driver in the NASCAR Playoffs standings without a win in the Round of 8. Joey Logano won the first race of the round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to clinch his spot in the Championship 4.
Kyle Larson then won the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he had already been eliminated from playoff contention, so three of the four title-eligible spots remained open as the Cup Series headed to the 0.5-mile track in southern Virginia.
Chastain had a 19-point advantage over Denny Hamlin in fifth place after the Homestead event. Chastain started the race in ninth and finished seventh in each of the first two stages. Few notable moments happened in those first 260 laps, but Hamlin won both stages to close the gap.
Ross Chastain’s 2022 season also started slowly before drama built
Chastain opened the season with little fanfare in his first campaign with Trackhouse Racing, which was in only its second year of existence and had purchased Chip Ganassi Racing toward the end of the 2021 season.
He finished dead last in the 40-car field for the Daytona 500 after he was involved in an eight-car crash 62 laps into the 200-lap event. A 29th-place finish followed a week later at Auto Club Speedway, and Chastain was 36th in the points standings.
Then his season started to shift into another gear.
Chastain ripped off four straight top-three finishes in a stretch that culminated with his first career Cup Series win in late March at the Circuit of the Americas.
Long known as an aggressive driver throughout his eight years in the Xfinity Series, Chastain showcased his forcefulness toward the end of the race at COTA. He, A.J. Allmendinger, and Alex Bowman all had a shot at winning as the white flag flew to signal the final lap.
Allmendinger moved Chastain wide late in the lap, which also allowed Bowman to put Chastain back to third as the final corners approached. That’s when Chastain bumped Allmendinger from behind and sent him into Bowman, wrecking both of his competitors as he drove off to make his first visit to a Cup Series Victory Lane.
He won again four weeks later at Talladega Superspeedway after an aggressive move to try to remain on the lead lap midway through the race nearly wrecked the lead pack of cars.
Chastain had worked his way up to second in the points standings when the drama that became the primary storyline of his season developed.
Chastain sent Hamlin into the Turn 1 wall early in the June 4 race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis and then spun Chase Elliott soon after a restart later in the event. Those wrecks had Hamlin and Elliott both irate, and both swerved in front of Chastain throughout the race to show their displeasure.
More of the same happened a month later at Atlanta Motor Speedway when Chastain again wrecked Hamlin, this time late in the race when Hamlin was running fourth. That came after he had triggered an eight-car pileup in Stage 2 of the event and had several more drivers upset with him.
Hamlin got some payback two weeks later when he squeezed Chastain into the Turn 1 wall on an overtime restart at Pocono Raceway, but the possibility for more permeated the playoffs.
Chastain’s intense battles extended late into Martinsville race
Chastain provided his trademark aggressiveness once again in the final stage Sunday at Martinsville when he spun out Brad Keselowski from eighth.
Then, as fate would have it, Chastain and Hamlin lined up side-by-side on the final restart with 24 laps left. They jockeyed for position and made contact several times during the next several laps. At one point, Chastain even intentionally slowed down to make sure Hamlin could not get behind him and spin him out in what was a fitting battle after the rivalry those two drivers have engaged in throughout the season.
Hamlin had worked his way up to fifth by the time the field took the white flag and had a two-point advantage on Chastain for the final Championship 4 spot.
Chastain was 10th but then made one of the most extraordinary moves in NASCAR history when he shifted into high gear and mashed the gas pedal heading into Turn 3, riding the wall all the way around to the finish line. He passed five cars with that move and jumped ahead of Hamlin to snatch the final transfer spot.
Chastain will now compete for the unlikeliest of championships this coming Sunday at Phoenix Raceway after an incredibly adventurous race that properly epitomized his incredibly adventurous 2022 season in the span of 500 laps.
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